Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Communion of Saints

All Saints’ Day is a celebration of the Communion of Saints, the Communion of all the Faithful, both living and dead. Thus, it is also our feast day, and it is a mistake to celebrate only the departed ones who have been canonized or officially recognized as holy.
In the letters of the apostle Paul, “the saints” refer primarily to living members of the Christian communities (see e.g. 2 Corinthians 1:1). Paul organized a collection in the regions where he founded communities, and “Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26). Living people were the original subjects of the Beatitudes of Jesus which would be the gospel reading on All Saints’ Day.

In “Mga Kataga sa Teolohiyang Doktrinal” [Terms in Doctrinal Theology], the Communion of Saints is dynamically translated as “Damayan ng mga Tapat,” and is described as follows:
ang matatag na sandiwaan, paghahating-kapatid sa mga kaloob ng Diyos, at walang-kamatayang bayanihan ng lahat ng mga tapat kay Kristo, mga tapat na nabubuhay at mga tapat na sumakabilang buhay; tinatawag ding pakikipag-isa ng mga banal. Ito’y bukluran sa iisang Diwa ni Kristo na nakikilala’t nadarama lalo na sa pagdiriwang ng iisang binyag at iisang salu-salo ng Panginoon.
It is a solid sharing in the Spirit, the brotherly sharing of God’s gifts, and the undying solidarity of all of Christ’s faithful, the faithful in this life and in the next. This communion in the one Spirit is experienced and expressed especially in the celebration of one baptism and one supper of the Lord.
The Communion of the Faithful is misunderstood or rejected by those who are devoted to patron saints but are indifferent to or neglectful of needy brothers and sisters in this life. The real Communion of the Faithful entails solidarity and mutual aid to address physical, psychological and spiritual needs.
This is a Communion not of perfect people but of forgiven sinners like the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, who resolved: “I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

By visiting the cemeteries and praying for our beloved dead on All Saints’ Day, we are expressing our hope in the mercy of God and freedom from sin for our departed loved ones. “Anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (Rom 6:7), and thus we hope that our dearly departed are counted among Christ’s faithful, who have been set free.
de Guzman, Emmanuel, Joselito Henson, Reginald Cruz and Dennis Gonzalez. “Mga Kataga sa Teolohiyang Doktrinal.” Quezon City, 2001.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Private and Public Sinners

Only Luke’s gospel has the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:9-14). The parable shows divine acceptance of the public sinner who humbly requests for mercy, on the one hand, and divine disapproval of the private sinner who looks down on the public sinner on the other.
Why were tax collectors considered public sinners? According to E.P. Sanders ("Historical Figure of Jesus," 1993), the tax collectors included customs officers, and they were mostly petty functionaries. The small towns around Galilee’s large lake (the Sea of Galilee) exported and imported goods. The customs officers collected taxes on the exported and imported commodities. In Galilee, these collections were then turned over to the puppet king, Herod Antipas, who in turn had to pay tribute to Rome.

There were indeed tax collectors who cheated and enriched themselves by charging more than the required amounts. Yet even if some were honest, tax collectors were seen as instruments of Herod and Rome, instruments of oppression, and thus they would be disliked by people in general.

As for the private sinner, he is usually blind to his hidden sins or sinful attitudes of arrogance, envy, and resentment. Jesus was chosen and sent to bring about “recovery of sight for the blind” especially for the spiritually blind (Lk 4:18). The merciful Father wants the conversion of both private and public sinners and their adoption of a new way of seeing that will lead to their reconciliation with God and with one another.
Another private sinner in Luke’s gospel is the older son in the parable of the gracious father with two (lost) sons (15:11-32) which is the longest parable in all the gospels and is exclusive to Luke. The younger son left his father and became a loser and public sinner, “but the older son has never really been there [with his father].” For years he has been “slaving for his father, resentful, selfish and angry” (Megan McKenna).
“Luke presents the mission and message of Jesus as a prophetic critique of the status quo” (Dennis Sweetland). This status quo is a world of separation, inequity or enmity between rich and poor, insider and outsider, male and female, private sinner and public sinner.
Before his conversion, Saul was a private sinner: “a Pharisee…[whose] legalistic righteousness [was] faultless” (Philippians 3:5-6). As an apostle, Paul preached the Gospel in season and out of season, and suffered as a good soldier of Christ.
The apostle experienced persecution in which he said, “no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.” Yet like Christ on the cross, he humbly prayed for those who turned their back on him: “may it not be held against them” (2 Timothy 4:16).
We have all sinned. May we accept this deep truth with faith in Christ and be ready to work and suffer for the Gospel of reconciliation until our last days when we can thank God and with deep humility say, like the apostle, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Persistent Widow

Authentic faith, constant prayer, and the pursuit of justice are inseparable in the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). To win over opponents, we need both to lift up our hands in prayer and to act, work, or fight, as illustrated in the story of the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16).
In the parable of the widow, who was one of the most vulnerable figures in ancient society, she faced a formidable obstacle to her pursuit of justice: “a judge who neither feared God nor cared about people” (Lk 18:2). The widow, however, was courageous and persistent.
Somebody cheated or harmed her. Perhaps she was poor and yet her son did not fulfill his duty to provide her some support. Or she had no son, and although still marriageable, her brother-in-law refused to fulfill his duty of marrying her and securing her future. Maybe her adversary gave the judge a bribe.
Because her persistent pleas were wearing him out, the unjust judge decided to grant her justice. He did the right thing for an inferior or selfish reason.
Are we like the courageous widow or the unjust judge? Don’t we sometimes do the right thing for the wrong or inferior reason?
The story-teller and theologian, Megan McKenna, is right: God is like the persistent widow rather than the unjust judge. God is not someone either selfish or indifferent whom we have to pressure, shake up, or wear out through persistent prayers in order that we can get what we want or what we think is good.
God is like the widow. Even though God’s word through the prophets at many times had been ignored or rejected, God persisted and sent the beloved Son to set free all who are imprisoned or oppressed by sin and selfishness. Even though the Son was rejected and executed shamefully, his Spirit remains and keeps on calling us to conversion, justice, peace and mercy.
Some Church leader should put up a "Chapel (or Shrine) of (God) the Persistent Widow." Do we have the deep faith to see God in the widow or in the weak or vulnerable person who persists to seek what is right? May the Lord increase our faith: may the Lord help us to be constant in prayer and steadfast in the pursuit of justice.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keep Your Head (in Family Planning)

The unpopularity of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the moral superiority of natural family planning over the use of artificial contraceptives will not be enough to persuade the hierarchy, especially the bishops, to stop making public pronouncements about the issue.
Church leaders have been taught: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). Indeed when a Church teaching is unpopular, inopportune, or "out of season," this in itself is not enough reason to stop stating and clarifying it.
Unfortunately, some Church officials have not been careful with their public statements such as the premature announcement (or veiled threat) of “civil disobedience” as a right that Church members may exercise in case the State enacts a reproductive health law that will endanger the right to life of the unborn child and will weaken the right of couples to decide the number of their children.
“Keep your head in all situations” (2 Tim 4:5) is a wise reminder to Church leaders on the need for sobriety as they engage in public debate, within a constitutional democratic society, about a complex issue such as the proper ways to help couples to practice responsible parenthood and plan their families. Sobriety is part of the essential discipline of "a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2:3). Sobriety implies restraining oneself from saying things that generate more heat than light.
To keep one's head, or to remain level-headed, in the contemporary debate on family planning and reproductive health entails opening one's ears to other voices especially voices from relevant disciplines like sociology, development economics, medicine and public health.
As it actively engages in the public debate, hopefully with greater intelligence and sobriety, the hierarchy can show better the depth of its convictions by investing more time, personnel, resources, and research in order dramatically to expand and upgrade its own educational programs and efforts, whether parish-based or not, to promote natural family planning especially among couples in urban and rural poor communities in our country.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Healing Faith

One can define faith as the desire, decision and practice of people to perceive the generosity and inner radiance of God and to express their appreciation through worship, openness to the divine will, and the practice of bearing witness to the Creator’s care and compassion toward creatures.
One of the definitions of “pananampalataya” in “Mga Kataga sa Teolohiyang Doktrinal”[Terms in Doctrinal Theology] is: “hangarin, pasiya, at pagsisikap ng tao na tumanaw ng utang-na-loob sa Bathala sa pamamagitan ng pagsamba at pakikinig sa kanya at paghahayag at pagsasabuhay ng kanyang pagmamagandang-loob sa bawa’t nilalang” (p. 30).
This is the faith that healed the Samaritan with a skin ailment, as “when he saw he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice” (Luke 17:15). In a story that is found only in the gospel of Luke, Jesus cleansed ten men with skin ailments, but only the Samaritan returned to praise God. What happened to the other nine?
Perhaps the nine cleansed Jews were shocked that the Samaritan was also cleansed. Jews considered Samaritans unworthy rivals in the worship of Yhwh. The Samaritans had put up their own temple on Mount Gerizim. Antagonism towards Samaritans was rooted in Jewish history and tradition.
In 2 Kings, after the Israelite Northern Kingdom of Samaria fell to the Assyrian army, “the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites” (2 Kgs 17:24). The new settlers “worshipped Yhwh, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought” (17:33). The Samaritans in Jesus’ time were considered descendants of those settlers who both worshipped Yhwh and served their idols.
Jesus cleansed the Samaritan because his messianic mission is “to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18, Isaiah 58:6) or to release those imprisoned or oppressed by sin, injustice, and prejudice. The Samaritan not only was healed but was saved because of his faith, which was authentic as he came back to express publicly his great appreciation of God’s compassion. Unlike the nine others, the Samaritan underwent authentic healing, he experienced a real miracle, he experienced salvation, as he decided to bear witness to divine compassion. He expressed the faith that heals, the faith that saves.
Perhaps the nine others, although physically cleansed, did not want to be healed of their prejudice. If that were the case, no miracle happened, for there would be no transformation of the heart. The real miracle involves conversion or inner transformation, as "the Kindom of God is within you" when it comes (Lk 17:21).
Jesus also suffered prejudice, for example, from his town-mates in the synagogue who drove him out of the town to throw him down the cliff, after he, who was not known to be an official teacher or guardian of their tradition, dared to remind them of God’s graciousness to outsiders like the widow in Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian during the times of the prophets Elijah and Elisha (Lk 4:24-30).
Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, had a skin ailment, and was instructed by the prophet Elisha to dip himself in the Jordan seven times. He underwent authentic healing, as he went back to Elisha to proclaim that he “will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord” (2 Kgs 5:17).
Jesus went on with his mission even though most of the beneficiaries, the nine others, did not truly believe in the divine will to set all the oppressed free. Jesus went on even though many guardians of the tradition and his own town-mates did not appreciate his ministry. Because of God’s inner radiance, Christ is faithful to his divine mission no matter what happens. “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
de Guzman, Emmanuel, Joselito Henson, Reginald Cruz and Dennis Gonzalez. “Mga Kataga sa Teolohiyang Doktrinal.” Quezon City, 2001. ISBN 971-92378-0-5.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Faith on the Cross

Another testimony to the faith of Jesus is his cry on the cross. Read Mark 15:33-39. According to J├╝rgen Moltmann ("The Crucified God," 1974), a political theologian whose "Theology of Hope" (1964) inspired some of the first-generation liberation theologians, the last words of Jesus in the passion stories of Mark and Matthew indicate that Jesus died as a Godforsaken man, a man who deeply felt abandoned by God.
The cry of Jesus on the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) indicates that he died not only as somebody abandoned by his disciples and friends and rejected by the chief priests. He died also as a Godforsaken man. In his final moments, Jesus did not see any sign of the mercy of the Father. Jesus felt forsaken by God; this was probably the gravest challenge to his faith. This was his last temptation.
Jesus died “with a loud cry” (15:37). This loud cry evokes the cry of a demoniac at the moment when the demon is cast out in Mark’s gospel (1:26, 9:26). This suggests that Jesus experienced demonization while he was on the cross. Indeed he was being demonized as passers-by were insulting and mocking him. And he was also being demonized by his deep feeling of abandonment. Jesus died without receiving any relief from the terrible isolation he felt. An ancient version of the Apostle’s Creed says that Jesus descended “to hell” (ad inferna). His final moments were hellish indeed.
The death of Jesus as a Godforsaken man does not mean that he died in despair or that his faith collapsed in his final moments. Jesus died with the terrible feeling of being abandoned by God, and yet he held on in his trust without the consolation of feeling the presence of the merciful Father, who was hidden and silent. Jesus was able to hold on because his faith had grown so much throughout his life.

The faith of the crucified Jesus was already tried and tested in the temptations and challenges he encountered especially during his public ministry. Thus, after the compassionate Father vindicated and glorified him, Christ can be in solidarity with godforsaken men and women, those who are abandoned by family and friends, those who are abandoned by society, and those who feel abandoned by God.

The cry of Jesus reproduces the first line of Psalm 22, which ends with lines that praise God (vv 22-31). It is highly probable that Jesus knew the whole of Psalm 22. Thus, if he indeed cried out its first line, he most likely was affirming the message of the whole psalm. In preserving his trust despite the intense feeling of being forsaken, Jesus has shown that he is a faithful servant of God, a True Man of Great Faith and the True Believer in the Merciful Father.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Faith of Jesus

Jesus practised deep faith throughout his life and shared his faith with his disciples with the duty to guard, develop, and share it from generation to generation.
To speak of the faith of Jesus might strike some Christians as strange or surprising. How can we speak of Jesus’ faith if, as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, he knows the Father fully?

According to some medieval theologians, Jesus was enjoying the beatific vision, the happy and heavenly vision of God, already from the first moment of his conception. In this case, throughout his public ministry and during his trial and execution, were his physical and psychological struggles real or were they only instances of play-acting?

Let us take a look at the testimony of the New Testament. We begin with the story of the healing of the boy with a deaf-mute spirit in Mark 9:16-29. For John Meier ("A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus," vol. 2, 1994), this particular exorcism most probably goes back to the Jesus of history, for there are some remarkable differences between this story and the other exorcism stories.

First, this is the only exorcism in Mark's gospel which refers to the failure of the disciples to perform the requested exorcism. Earlier in this gospel, Jesus already gave the Twelve authority over unclean spirits, and then they themselves performed exorcisms (Mk 6:7,13). Jesus wagered on his disciples, and empowered them to partially actualize God’s Rule even before they seemed ready for it.

The second remarkable aspect is the almost clinical nature of the detailed description of the boy’s affliction. According to Meier, it seems that the boy suffered some form of epilepsy. The third remarkable aspect is the absence of christological titles in the story. Jesus is referred to as “teacher.”

Fourth, the story makes reference to the faith of Jesus. In this story, the one who believes, the one who has faith is no other than Jesus himself. His powerful deed is based on faith, his faith. The boy was healed through his prayer. The story implies that Jesus acts and heals with the power that comes from faith. Jesus is the True Man of Great Faith.
(An interesting insight from the story concerns the unclean spirit that hindered speech. It was a spirit so painful that it was causing the boy to throw himself into fire. According to some psychologists, being unable to express adequately raw emotions is a major cause of violence to oneself or to others. As William Blake [1757-1827] put it:

“I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.” Thus, to prevent people from expressing their feelings is to push them closer to acts of violence. Pastoral agents ought to help plain folks especially the poor to express themselves and assert their rights.)
Another New Testament reference to the faith of Jesus is in the Letter to the Hebrews 12:2, which calls Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” This letter presents Jesus as the first-born in our faith, the first to have lived fully in seeking the will of God. Jesus cannot be described as the pioneer of our faith if he himself did not practise great faith. Now, what is faith?
According to Heb 11:1, “faith is the substance of what we hope for, and the admission of what we do not see.” Now, if Jesus were the pioneer of our faith, and if he were the best model of a man of faith, this implies that there were at least some stages in his life in which he made a personal decision to believe in some things that he himself did not fully see.
We read in Heb 5:7-8: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Jesus learned to trust, to believe, and to obey God. The faith of Jesus was a process of learning to trust. Just as Jesus developed physically, his faith also went through a process of development. As Luke puts it in 2:52, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people.”
The development process that Jesus underwent could have included experiences of conversion, a radical change in his expectations or outlook. For example, why did Jesus submit to John’s baptism “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 2:4)? Perhaps it was the example and preaching of John which helped Jesus to recognize the sinfulness of their society, the sinfulness of the guardians of the tradition, and the inability already of the temple system to be a medium for the forgiveness of sins.
John turned his back on his filial duty to become a priest, and he turned his back on the temple system itself, for he did not require those who came to be baptized for forgiveness to go to the temple afterwards to offer the traditional sin-offering of an unblemished female goat or lamb to be sacrificed (Leviticus 4:27-35). Furthermore, John called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7).
John’s preaching sensitized Jesus to feel the reality of repressed public guilt, which was an effect of sinful social structures. Jesus felt the weight of the public guilt even though, in the Christian view, he himself had no share in the blame for it. His distressing experience of collective guilt might have prompted him to submit to John’s baptism.

John converted Jesus to the belief that God’s Kindom was near and that their society was sinful. Later, Jesus experienced perhaps a second conversion when he decided to pursue his own prophetic ministry in which he, unlike John, emphasized the joy of salvation in a Kindom that was already partially present. Also, Jesus did not reproduce the ascetic life-style of John (see Luke 7:33-34).

The faith of Jesus developed through a process of interaction with various persons from whom he would learn new things. For example, read the story of Jairus’ daughter, who was twelve years old, and the unnamed woman who had a twelve-year hemorrhage in Mk 5:21-43. A feminist christologist, Rita Nakashima Brock ("Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power" [1992] pp.83-84), writes:

"Both females are afflicted with crises associated with the status of women in Greco-Roman and Hebraic society. The adult woman is sick with one of the most polluting signs of female adulthood [see Lev 15:19-30]. The adolescent is on the threshold of a similar curse, puberty. The woman has suffered with bleeding for exactly the same period of time it has taken Jairus’ daughter to reach the official age of puberty and marriageability--twelve years. The woman’s hemorrhage is the affliction of adult women in magnified form; she bleeds endlessly and is perpetually polluting. The authorities, the physicians, have left her poor and sick. They cannot help her disease because the ordinary social structures cannot help her. They are part of her problem....She suffers from her very femaleness. The social structures also interfere with Jesus’ ability to help her because he is a Jewish man. He is not even able to see her. She is invisible to him, lost in the protective maze of his disciples.
"The woman is, nonetheless, determined to be whole. She is able to acknowledge, from the depths of herself, her heart, her desperate need to be healed, to be restored to right relationships. Her heart opens the space for erotic power to surface. She summons the courage to violate a patriarchal social taboo. Though an unclean woman, she touches Jesus in public....In the touching, she is, literally, saved, not just cured in a medical sense, but saved. Her courage in violating a taboo has made her whole."

After Jesus kept looking for the one who touched him, the healed woman, despite her fear, showed herself and acknowledged what she did. Thus, she reaffirmed that she believed that her action, her violation of a patriarchal taboo, was the right thing to do. Jesus responded: “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” He disregarded the fact that he was rendered “unclean” by the touch of an “unclean” woman.
The encounter with the courageous woman taught Jesus a lesson. Afterwards, he could fully appreciate what ails Jairus’ daughter: she was dying because she had begun menstruating and she could not accept the following consequences: she was considered “unclean” and should not be touched, and she knew that her childhood had ended and she could soon be given in marriage perhaps to somebody she did not even know. She was dying, as she was losing respect for her body and her very self. Perhaps she became catatonic in her trauma. Jesus brought her back to life when he touched her (“he took her by the hand”) and helped her to stand up, to be free from shame and self-rejection, and to feel at home with her body.

The deep faith of Jesus developed through a process that not only involved close interaction with the unwashed and the “unclean” but also involved struggles against temptation. According to Heb 4:15: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.” Again, Heb 2:18 says: “Because Jesus himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
The deep faith of Jesus was formed in the midst of struggle, the struggle against temptation, and the struggle to respond to the challenges of his times. Thus, when we are tempted, when we are struggling, when we are suffering, Christ can truly help us for he understands fully what it means to struggle, to suffer, and to be tempted.